OMAHA, Neb. -- The date was January 7, 2008. In front of a Louisiana Superdome home crowd, LSU toppled No. 1 Ohio State for the 2007 BCS national championship, the Tigers’ second football crown in five years.
It was the site of the last national title for LSU in any sport. It was also the venue where Jared Mitchell and Chad Jones put the finishing touches on a remarkable season with their first championship ring.
Nearly 18 months later, Mitchell and Jones have a chance to do something special – winning a national championship in two different sports. It’s a feat so rare that only one athlete in LSU history has ever accomplished.
Bennie Brazell was a wide receiver on the Tigers’ 2003 BCS football championship while also serving as a standout sprinter on the track and field’s 2002 outdoor and 2004 indoor national championship teams.
No one has ever achieved it in the sports of football and baseball at LSU. Mitchell and Jones are the first student-athletes in NCAA history to play for a BCS national championship and participate in the College World Series championship series.
“When you come to a school like this, you want to win national championships and compete against the best,” Mitchell said. “To have the opportunity I’ve had so far is a dream come true. You really don’t think that could happen in one career. Coach (Les) Miles has allowed me to do both and both coaches working together just shows the type of guys they are.”
Mitchell came to LSU as the top wide receiver prospect in the state of Louisiana in 2005. He was named the Class 5A most valuable player after leading Westgate High School to the state quarterfinals while racking up 2,000 all-purpose yards on the football field.
However, he also excelled on the baseball diamond. Baseball America constantly touted him as a five-tool player – a guy that can hit for average, hit for power, field, throw and run the bases. A future in baseball was likely his best option.
“I can remember Coach Miles back in my living room in high school when we were talking about it,” Mitchell said. “That was the big, deciding factor in me coming over here than South Carolina. He talked about baseball and was open about it. If I mentioned anything about baseball at South Carolina, they went right back to football. It was the best decision in my life to come here.”
Following the Chick-fil-A Bowl, Miles permitted Mitchell to go right into baseball and miss spring football practice. The focus on baseball allowed Mitchell to have a breakout junior season en route to becoming the 23rd pick of the Chicago White Sox in the 2009 Major League Baseball Draft.
Mitchell said he is blessed to be a part of championship caliber teams and sees similarities in the attitude and willingness to win with this baseball team and the 2007 football team.
“It’s such a great feeling,” he said. “I told these guys over here before the year started that the feel of this team and the camaraderie is very similar to what we had on the football field that year. To see it all unfold and come together, here we are playing for a national championship.”
Jones has a similar story. The 13th-round selection of the Houston Astros in the 2007 Major League Baseball Draft, he turned an opportunity to play professional baseball and come to LSU as a two-sport star.
“When I was coming to LSU, Coach Miles was all for baseball when I was drafted by the Houston Astros,” Jones said. “He told me to make the best decision, and obviously, that best decision was for me to come to school.”
Jones focused on football during his first season and made his presence felt in nearly every game, none bigger than his forced fumble and key sack in the final minute of the Tigers’ triumph against Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
The time and demands of playing two sports and getting an education first and foremost proved to be difficult for Jones as a freshman. He has since matured and contributed in numerous ways.
“When I got to school, as long as I kept my grades up I could play both sports,” he said. “My first year I let my grades slip up, but this year my grades are much better. I talked to Coach (Miles) and he supports me and comes to games. He’s all for baseball.”
Jones made his way to the baseball field following football. He played in the outfield for the first month of the season before participating in spring football. With the Tigers’ outfield solidified during his time away from baseball, Jones was given the chance to show his stuff on the mound when associate head coach David Grewe granted him a bullpen session.
A few days later, he made his debut on the mound in a pressure-packed situation, striking out two batters and preserving a lead for the Tigers against Auburn. He has since been a standout left-handed reliever and an intimidating presence for opposing hitters.
Jones is one of the most athletic guys you will ever see and arguably has more power than any hitter in Omaha. On the team’s first practice day, he stepped into the cage and drilled a ball nearly 475 feet over the NCAA baseball sign in right centerfield.
The titanic blast caused a stir amongst the reporters on the field, to which one said, “who is this guy, Babe Ruth?”
No. That’s Chad Jones. LSU relief pitcher, outfielder and soon to be starting safety on the football field when the Tigers tee it up in Seattle against Washington on Sept. 5.
Like Mitchell, he feels privileged to have the opportunity to not only play both sports but attempt to claim a national title in each.
“I don’t know too many people who have done that, but it’s a great feeling,” Jones said. “Hopefully, Jared and I get put in the record books for this if we get the job done. I’m having a great time, my first time in Nebraska. We have met some great people, and I am enjoying this experience of a lifetime.”
Paul Mainieri and Les Miles have accommodated and recognized Mitchell and Jones’ talents in both sports and it has paid off. Much can be attributed to Miles, who has always welcomed and recruited two-sport athletes.
There’s something to be said about that because few coaches in this day and age truly allow it to happen, particularly with the year-round demands of playing of college football.
The teamwork of Miles and Mainieri has allowed two of the most exciting athletes to shine on a national stage in two sports and possibly make history. It proves that as an athlete at LSU, there are no obstacles to playing two sports and winning national championships in both.